Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Gaza Workshop - remotely

When I think about it, it still makes me angry. The GPO press card was denied, but until now, no answer. No official response. Perhaps so it can be said that no, they didn't deny it, it's just taking them longer than usual to process it. Jason says they have 45 days to approve or deny an application. but I know any successful application is done in one day. Any more, and you can forget about it.

So today, on the day when I should be in Gaza running a workshop, and filming, photographing, writing, I have to instead use a faltering internet connection to talk to a group of filmmakers and citizen journalists. It takes over an hour to set up and test the connection.

Yoav calls Palnet to order an upgrade on the line to 2mb/s, but it's still not good enough. We test the line, call Fadi and the video flickers to life. A grainy face in a white room, light bleeding on to the screen from the open door behind him.

"Can you hear me?"
"Can you see me?"

The room fills with more videographers, the images still jumping in fits as the connection cuts in and out.

Introductions take around 40 minutes, because we can only hear and see the person sitting directly in front of the laptop. It has to be passed around to each individual. Most of them have been filming for a year or two and have already made some short films, so I'm here to review their work currently and try to encourage them to get to the next level and start thinking about short, creative, personal films.

We don't need to start from the beginning. Luckily we don't need to run technical workshops on camera use - that would be impossible by internet video. No contact. They can't see my hands waving, my gestures, I can't see their faces clearly, there's little feedback, it has to be: I talk, they listen. They talk, I listen.

All interesting stories, different trajectories somehow bringing everyone together. Here. Awatif used to work for Ramattan, but she got disheartened with daily news so she joined the project. "The news doesn't fit my personality," she told me. I often feel the same way.

Variously: "My camera is my weapon."

"Sometimes we're using the media against ourselves."

The process is frustrating, every sentence has to be repeated a few times - when the line disintegrates their faces are suddenly pixelated smears still frozen on the screen.

(Is my denial to Gaza censorship?)
(Should I appeal it?)
(I'm thinking of the wrong thing. I should be thinking about them, in Gaza, not me)

The exercises are basic, from here we can't do any practical training. I can't run through camera techniques with them, or watch their footage with them. I can't have a debate about the use of media or representation of Palestinians in the news. We're trying to discuss the theory of citizen journalism, what are the reasons for making films? Is there a purpose to this? Can any of this really make a difference? Can it influence international law?

I don't think changing international law is our responsibility as filmmakers. I think our responsibility is to tell our stories, and hopefully work on individuals. Those individuals elect their Presidents and Prime Ministers, those rulers help write the laws, they have influence, they have power and money and weapons. All we have are cameras.

Abdullah: "like anyone in Gaza, I want to show our message, how we're people, we like peace, but the situation for people in Gaza is the opposite." (Film on fishermen. "They're supposed to be free but they have a wall around them.")

Ibrahim: "so the whole world can see how we live. They can see some of us living normally."

Fatma: Arab media is under dictatorships. They still have the Ministry of Information.

"In Gaza, if one hundred kids die and five soldiers are killed, the media will say 'fighters were killed'."

Suggestions: Make a film about cultural or intellectual imperialism, against globalisation?
A Palestinian kid studying in the US?
Film about the freedom to travel?
The sea?
What's missing in your country?
Who's responsible for this?

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